How Australian is Clarke?

06/03/2014

South Africa v Australia - 3rd Test: Day 5

 

 

So South Africa, despite beating Australia away in their last two series there, are still to beat them since readmission at home. They came pretty close to another drawn series, 4 overs close, but Australia struck at the end to win the series, a series that really should be longer than three matches.

What’s really stood out for me in this Australian side, bar one idiot, has been the spirit and class which they have played. All three Tests were hard fought and took the on field battle to the edge at times. Australia don’t play quiet, it’s one of the reasons they have been dominant in the 90’s and early 2000’s – a mental disintegration of there opponents that takes place before and during each match. Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s South Africa have had teams that could compete skills wise with the all conquering Waugh and Ponting teams, but mentally were found wanting in the 50/50 plays that decide matches and series. This is an altogether tougher Proteas team, thanks to Smith, and crossing that barrier has lead to series wins away in England, Australia and the sub continent. So to see the emotion and fight out on the field between the two teams was evidence of the passion they have for their countries and their sport.

Knowing where the line is, is as important as knowing when to attack and fight, and when to step away. This is where Michael Clarke has lead by example, and bar David Warner, the rest of his team have followed suit. Mitchel Johnson and the attack would try and take your head off, snarling fire and were never short of a suggestion to the batsman, but each milestone passed by the batsman was met with applause and a handshake when they walked from the field. They recognized the spirit of the game and gave respect to who they were playing. This class within the team was no more evident than after Warner had made a few stupid remarks about AB de Villiers treatment of the ball in a press conference, and Ryan Harris later told reporters he didn’t think the Proteas had done anything wrong, they were just better at executing their skills than Australia were in that lost Test. On the perhaps the tensest day of the series, the last day of the deciding Test, after Australia had a decision overturned on review, emotions were high, with South Africa doing a brave job of battling for a draw and Australia tireless running in trying to get the win, their were a few words said between the Australians and Dale Steyn, with Clarke getting involved and the umpires having to separate them and have a word with Clarke about their behaviour. In the next break in play Clarke was seen going up to Steyn and apologizing. In the heat of a passion and emotion filled day things are said, and lines crossed, but recognizing when you’ve stepped over and addressing that is a class move, and Clarke showed plenty of that throughout the series. At the post match press conference he was again apologetic and took full blame and responsibility for it.

Teams have been used to be sledged, bullied and pushed around by Austalian sides in the past, sides that had the beating of others in terms of skill, but also on the mental side of the game, not allowing soft teams an inch. It has left things bitter in some regards, there’s no love lost between Harbajan Singh and the Australians, but when a side lead by someone like Clarke, and a side that follows his example, plays in the correct spirit, hard but fair, you can’t help but show a bit of admiration. Even if they are Australia.

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Protea Selectors Miss Point

23/01/2011

 

As I begin writing this post the ODI series between South Africa and India is poised at 2-2, with India needing to chase 268 from 46 overs to take the series. No easy task, but within their capabilities. Of course this series is just a warm up to the big event next month in the sub continent when the two giants will face off again in a group game at the World Cup.

On Tuesday night, after India again won a tight encounter, the Protea’s named their World Cup squad. The squad contains a good mix of youth, experience, pace, spin and the potential surprise of Imran Tahir – who’s yet to play a game for his adopted country.

In truth most of the squad picked itself. If you’d asked a bunch of people to pick the squad a few months ago, with the proviso so Tahir would qualify, you’d have most people picking similar squads with perhaps 12-13 of the 15 common across most lists. With that said an inclusion that most may not have had is that of Morne van Wky. Always a performer at domestic level, the Eagles opener and keeper is a great tactical choice by the selectors. When Smith pulled out of the T20 before the ODI series van Wky was given a last minute call up. He took his chance to impress brilliantly and was the only Protea batsman to really show up. He’ll fulfill the role as back up to de Villiers behind the stumps, as well a backup batsman, able to bat anywhere in the order. So that’s the positive from the squad.

Where the selectors have failed is in not picking David Miller or Albie Morkel. The middle to lower order collapses during the current series have been alarming. What is clear though, and was very evident today, is that the Protea’s don’t have anyone in the middle/lower order who can come in and clear the boundary. The batsman they do have are all very good and can fulfill roles of keeping the scoreboard ticking, rotating strike, and rebuilding an innings, but arent finishers. Past South African teams have been spoiled for choice with the likes of Lance Klusner, Shaun Pollock, Mark Boucher, Nicky Boje and Albie Morkel. This squad is clearly missing a trick.

Miller was identified as that player once the selectors decided that Albie Morkels form had declined. Yet instead of sticking with the young player they have balked at the first hint of panic. It became clear after Faf duplessis made a debut 60 that Colin Ingram and Miller were playing for one position. As good as a player as Ingram is the selectors made the wrong choice. They’ve gone for a number 3 batsman to bat at 6 or 7. Ingram is a backup to Kallis spot and nothing else. He’s not suited to anything lower and it’s unfair to expect him to be called on to finish off an innings. That’s the role they picked Miller for and the role he should have been persevered with. If anything it made more sense to take the youngster with and have him part of the World Cup squad, even if he didn’t get on the field. Instead he’ll be watching from home, confidence shattered, having to rebuild his reputation, while the Protea’s struggle with finish off an innings.

If Miller was seen as to green to take to the World Cup, then why not go with Albie Morkel? He has the record, the experience, and has been out of the team for a period to warrant coming back hungry. His record in the IPL bares testament to how he performs on Indian pitches. That match winning late swing bowling that turned a loss into a win against Pakistan in Pakistan a few seasons back shows just how good he can be. His big hitting needs no justification. On his day he can’t be touched.

With Miller and Albie sat at home it would make more sense to have van Wyk come in at 6 or 7 if need be than Ingram. Ingrams time in the top order will come, he’s a very talented run accumulator, but at this stage, for this particular role, the SA selectors have erred big time.

A final thought – if not Miller or Albie….why not Davy Jacobs?


Yes or No to Tsotsobe?

25/12/2010

With the Boxing day Test between South Africa and India a day away, both teams have a few selection issues to think about. The choices should be easier for India, who will have to make changes to the woeful performance first time out. Zaheer Khan will come in for any of the seamers, none did enough to suggest they are ahead of the others, and Pujara could come in for the misfiring Raina. For the hosts there is only one possible change. To play Tsotsobe or not?

The conditions at Kingsmead, where there is expected to be some grass on the pitch, and over cast weather, could be the ideal time to play an all seam attack for South Africa. This could mean Mclaren or Parnell coming in for Harris, or both coming in for Harris and Tsotsobe. The likelihood though, no matter how seam friendly the pitch and conditions are, South Africa will retain Harris. The current Protea’s team, unlike the 90’s teams, will almost always go into a Test match with a spinner. So it becomes a shoot out between McLaren, Parnell and Tsotsobe.

Tsotsobe was the weak link in the attack in the opening Test. He was unlucky, with drop catches and mistimed shots, edges, all finding gaps, but the drop in pace, after facing Steyn and Morkel, meant that he was targeted by the Indian batsman. The same could have happened to anyone who played the 3rd seamer role. The danger here is that in the deeply political let up of South African sport, Tsotsobe is made to feel like a token non white player rather than a bowler of merit. Be sure that he is just that – his performances in the ODI series against Pakistan highlighted just what an affective bowler he is, but the longer he goes in Test cricket without picking up wickets the more people will cynically whisper. They did it to Hashim Amla when he first started and struggled with Test cricket. He’s now one of the top batsman in world cricket. So patience is the key here.

On form Mclaren is the right choice. Domestically he’s been brilliant, both with the ball, where he opens the bowling, and with his batting in the lower order. Mclaren would give the batting lineup depth that we havent seen since the Pollock, Klusner, Boje years. The selectors have said that they would reward domestic form, and with that Mclaren should be the obvious pick.

However Tsotsobe was picked for the opening Test, and it would send the wrong message to him where he to be discarded after one poor match. The potential is there, and having picked him they should stick with him. The pitch in Kingsmead may be more to his liking.

Potentially, Parnell is the best option. He offers both pace and swing, can bat, and is a future star of world cricket. He has however come back from a long injury, has not played much cricket since, and has remodeled his action somewhat. There needs to be a point where South Africa pick him, and stick with him. An attack led by Steyn, Morkel and Parnell has the potential to be lethal. Perhaps this is too soon for that however.

The best option would have been to pick Mclaren for the opening Test and stick with him. That didn’t happen and Tsotsobe was the man chosen. Having done so the selectors should be consistent and stick with Tsotsobe. He needs confidence and dropping him would not be the way to build that. Expect an unchanged Protea’s 11 tomorrow.

 

 

pic from cricinfo.com


50 Up for Hashim, the search for a new coach, and India’s spirit tested

24/12/2010

 

The boxing day Test in Durban could potentially be the turning point for this Protea’s team. Two years ago in Australia they secured their first ever Test series win in Australia with a win in the Boxing Day Test. What should have been the start of a dominant period for the Protea’s turned on its head after that. They lost their next 3 Tests, losing the return home series against Australia, and then failed in both the T20 World Cup and the Champions Trophy. While 2008 was great, 2009 was not.

SO they now have the chance to launch themselves again. Last weeks thumping thrashing of the number one ranked Test team has given South Africa the chance to claim the series in Durban, and potentially set up a 3-0 whitewash which will take South Africa to the top ranking in Test cricket. While India have been steady and impressive in reaching the number one spot, there was always the feeling that they had to win outside India to justify the position. They’ll need a lot more fight to make up for the thrashing the received in the first Test. Zaheer Khan’s return should give the bowling a bit of spirit, but in truth they’ll need more of their attack to stand up, and not expect Zaheer to take on the South African’s on his own.

Hashim Amla will play his 50th Test match at his home ground of Kingsmead this Boxing Day. His brilliant form this year will be tested at a ground where he is yet to have an impact on the international scene. When Hashim scored a century at Lords in 2008 he stated that the ultimate would be a ton at Kingsmead, his home, rather than Lords, the home of cricket. The form he’s been in this year, he’ll have all the opportunity in the world to fix his poor record in Durban, and get the achievement he deserves in his 50th Test. It would be a just and fitting end to a great year for the star batsman. How they work the ICC rankings is baffling. While Amla’s form has seen him rise up the ODI rankings to number 2, the century he scored last week saw him climb to number 9? Surely he should be way higher than that?

This series will also see the South Africans begin their search for a new coach. Corrie van Zyl will step down after the World Cup and go back to his role at the High Performance Centre. Van Zyl has done a great job since taking over from Arthur, but always made it clear that it would be a temporary appointment. Those who are being talked about include former captain Kepler Wessels, Richard Pybus, who’s had a successful time in South African domestic cricket, and has coached internationally with Pakistan, and most interestingly, current India coach and South African legend Gary Kirsten. Kirsten will not be renewing his contract with India, and the timing does fit perfectly. Someone who has not been mentioned, but who I think would be a great choice, is the former Protea and current Dolphins coach, Graham Ford. Ford took over from Bob Woolmer in 1999 and lead the team to 8 series wins in 11. He was unlucky to be on the receiving end of two thrashings by Australia which cost him the job. Australia were thrashing everyone at that time so it was harsh to say the least. He deserves a fair crack at the highest level again, and his coaching and tactical knowledge would be perfect to ensure the team doesnt lose focus, as they did in 2009.

All that having been said, lets hope the weather doesnt ruin what should be a great match this week. The rain in Durban over the last month and a bit needs to take a bit of a break and give everyone what we need – an enjoyable festive season.

 

 

pic from cricinfo.com


Mumbai Got It Wrong

26/04/2010

The 3rd edition of the IPL ended yesterday with the Chennai Super Kings being crowned champions. It was a fitting result for the Super Kings, who have been the most consistent team in the 3 editions, reaching the semi finals on each occasion,  the only team to do so. They also lost the first final by one run to the Rajasthan Royals. With the end of the 3rd edition signally the end of the teams first window together, there will be a fresh auction where the teams will be reshuffled and joined by two new teams, Chennai were rewarded for their results in the first three years. How different it could have been had Munbai got their tactics right.

The Mumbai Indians were the most expensive team at the beginning of the IPL. Bringing in the likes of Tendulkar, Harbajhan Singh, Shaun Pollock, JP Duminy and Dwayne Bravo. The first two editions saw them flatter to deceive and fail to reach the semi’s both times. This year things were different. The balance of the team was perhaps the best of the 8 teams. In Pollard, their expensive new acquisition, they had a powerful all-rounder who could finish games off for them. They sailed through the group stages, easily topping the log, and lead by the magnificent, and ageless, Tendulkar, and the simply brilliant Malinga.  There blend of local and overseas players gave them depth in all area’s, and little weakness. But when it really mattered they came unstuck.

Firstly they had Chennai on the ropes, and then fluffed it, dropping Raina twice on his way to a match winning 50. They allowed Chennai to post a decent score on a wicket that was always going to be harder chasing on. Their biggest mistakes came with their batting line up. When they were chasing 14-16 an over, with 6 overs to go, they should have sent Pollard in. Instead they waited until the 17th over, where his big hitting cameo showed what could have been, and not what was too late. Duminy, who is well capable of clearing the ropes, his brilliant 99* in the Champions League was evident of that, is not a hitter from ball one. He needs an over to play himself in, and coming in when he did he wasnt afforded that. His success in this format has been built around opening the batting, or coming in higher than what he has been doing lately. Last season he was Mumbai’s top run scorer, and that was from the to of the order. Why he wasn’t opening with Tendulkar, or at least coming in at 3 or 4, is something that Mumbai should look at.

The real crime was waiting till the match was all but lost to send Pollard in. It was simply asking too much to expect him to single-handedly win them the match with so few balls left. valiantly he attempted to do just that, but in vain, with a brilliant piece of captaincy by Dhoni, and an excellent 19th over by Morkel, winning the game for Chennai.

So was we move to the next phase of the IPL, with the auction and the reshaping of the teams, it will be interesting to see what happens. The teams have all had 3 years to work things out, and to see which players excel and which don’t. We’ll have to sit back and let it all unfold, but it should be the most interesting window in the IPL to date. For Chennai, they will know that there 3 years have culminated in a win, while Mumbai will now start again, knowing what it takes, and hoping not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

pic from cricinfo


No Uthappa?

16/04/2010

, Tendulkar and Raina have probably been the best batsman in the 3rd IPL, with the former two battling it out for the leading run scorers cap, the orange cap. Raina has not been as prolific but oozes class whenever he comes out to bat, and unlike Kallis and Tendulkar, he does not open, something that may have cost him a few runs, and something the Super Kings should really consider. Especially with an aging Hayden misfiring. While they may be the leading run scorers, the most destructive batsman has been Robin Uthappa, Kallis Bangalore Royal Challengers team mate. Yet Uthappa can’t make it into the Indian T20 World Cup squad.

Uthappa has hit the most 6’s, easing past the big hitting, if inconsistent Yusuf Pathan, but more than his ability to clear the boundary, almost at will, has been the consistency at which he is able to find the big shots game in and game out. Hitting ability, and the ability to close of innings and matches this well hasn’t really been seen since Lance Klusner used to do it at his prime for South Africa. Bangalore owe much of their success this season to the batting of Kallis, along with cameo’s from Pieterson, Dravid and Kholi, together with a well balance bowling attack, but the real clincher has been Uthappa. He’s given both chases and setting of totals an impetus that has taken the team to the next level. The ease and distance he’s been able to hit top bowlers and struggling ones alike has been remarkable. Yet he can’t get into the Indian team.

It seems Indian cricket may be suffering from a celebrity culture that takes places away from deserving players. It’s what happens on the field that counts. Tendulkar isn’t in the T20 team, which means that there’s one less batsman for Uthappa to get past. Of those chosen, Dhoni is captain and must play, Sehwag and Gambhir have not fired yet this year but you’d imagine they will start as the openers, Raina would come in next. But are the rest more worthy than Uthappa? Karthik is the reserve keeper and a good batsman, but better than Uthappa, who’s been keeping for the Challengers? Sharma has obvious ability and talent but like Karthik has been out batted by Uthappa. Yusuf Pathan and Jadeja are there as spinning all rounders so Uthappa wouldn’t be up against them. But Yuvraj Singh? He has shown an alarming lack of form and even more horrific lake of motivation this season. He has put the lack of form down to returning from injury, which would perhaps be believable if he hasn’t looked like a sulky teenager having been grounded. He lost the captaincy this year and has looked like he wants out ever since. And he’s been picked ahead of Uthappa? Clearly the celebrity of Yuvraj has been picked ahead of Uthappa.

So what has Uthappa to do to get past the bigger ego’s and reputations in the Indian team? If he’s not going to be picked on this form it’s hard to see him ever being picked. At 24 he still has many years ahead of him. Enough time to move to South Africa and qualify for the Protea’s. We’d have him, even if India won’t.

pic from cricinfo.com


Kallis Justified

14/04/2010

A few years ago Norman Arendse was in charge of South African cricket. His time in charge was more controversial than successful. Amongst the happenings under hiswatch was the retirement of Charl Langeveld, who refused to be used as a political pawn by Arendse, who has withdrawn Andre Nel from a touring team and replaced him with Langeveld, because he wanted less white players and more players of colour. Heroically Langeveld did not allow this to happen. There was also the occasion, a post match presentation to Shaun Pollock, who had played his final game for the Protea’s and had received a reception fit for the legend of the game that he is, and Arsendse decided to interrupt this goodbye to one of the countries favorite sons, to wish his daughter a happy birthday on live TV. I hope she was as embarrassed as the rest of us.

Perhaps the biggest mess up of his thankfully short stint, yet still too long, in charge of the countries cricket team, was his veto of Jacques Kallis from the first T20 World Cup squad. South Africa, still searching for their first ICC World Cup triumph, were hosting the tournament, and Arendse decided that the best cricketer the country had ever produced was not good enough to play T20 cricket. South Africa
bowed out before the semi finals with just one defeat – how Kallis experience was needed.

In the years that followed, taking us to this point, IPL 2010, Kallis has shown himself to be one of the best T20 players in the world. Currently jostling with the great Tendulkar for the Orange Cap, that worn by the leading run scorer in the IPL,
Kallis has been instrumental in the fortunes of the Bangalore Royal Challengers.  He has played the part of the batsman other look to play around, opening the batting and looking to bat for as long as possible, but has shown enough aggression and wonderful timing to keep the runs ticking over at a very healthy rate. He can field and bowl too.

Many thought in the infancy of T20 cricket that it wasn’t made for Test masters like Kallis. They forgot, or failed to understand that the likes of Kallis and Tendulkar are legends for a reason. They are able to not only adapt to any form of the game,
but to master it. That’s why they are the best. Maybe Arendse is watching, and this time he feels embarrassed. I doubt it though.
But Kallis won’t give him a second thought. He’ll just carry on doing what he was born to do – play cricket brilliantly.

pic from cricinfo.com